Gently used fix-ups

If you are a collector of stuff, August is high season for the hunt, especially in cottage country.

Left: Old garden tools are now a back rest for an unconventional seat

If you are a collector of stuff, August is high season for the hunt, especially in cottage country.

Holidays afford us the time to kick about and take leisurely drives along highways and byways. Make it a family outing, pack a lunch, and watch for those yard sales, barn sales, and antique shops.

Seasoned scavengers don’t have a specific list or know what they are looking for. The object is to discover a great deal on anything that could have future worth for you.

I recently spoke to designer, recycler and painter Lyn Gaby who admits that she has no preconceived ideas about what she wants. A piece will talk to her, either it will have good bones and proportion or it’s so crazy and fun that she just has to have it.

Assemble your finds and over time an idea will evolve.

In Gaby’s case a collection of long handled garden tools were first going to be fashioned into a frame, then a clothes hanger, then a long bench, and finally a chair that had some mid-century modern proportions and painted more simply than envisioned.

I think of it as a leap of faith, letting your imagination go and dreaming up a different purpose for common objects. You have to play with the shapes, move them around, recreate.

I love Gaby’s ladder bench seen here in a whimsically furnished mudroom. How clever. The room connects the garden to the home’s interior, combining elements that work inside and out.

Reinterpreting or rebuilding pieces does take some carpentry skill and at least a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of structure and design.

If these are not your strength, you can accomplish great things simply by painting your second hand finds.

Paint is the cheapest and most versatile decorating tool around. It will not fix cracks or broken chair legs, but if the structure is sound, paint will allow you to redesign the piece instantly.

A plain, inexpensive dresser can be painted in bold stripes or blocks of colour for a child’s room.

Alternatively, that same dresser can be sanded smooth, painted matte black and finished with sleek steel handles for a modern bedroom.

I’m always on the lookout for small, sturdy tables that can fit into a corner beside a chair, or by the bed, or in the entrance hall.

Tables are easy to paint – a flat surface is a blank canvas ready for anything. Paint a clock face or a checkerboard design, go ornate with faux marble or a stone finish. If the style suits, try some gilding around the edges of the table and over the curved legs. With small objects, mistakes are easily corrected, so be adventurous.

The art of decoupage is another clever means by which to restyle furniture and accessories. It can be used to augment an existing design, and adds tantalizing texture to your work. Check out designs and motifs on the internet that you can copy, or print and glue to the flat surface of a table or dresser.

Whatever route you follow, enjoy the entire experience from the search and sale to the redesign and the final paint finish. It’s a most exhilarating way to recycle and invent new pieces for your home.

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to

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